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Dressing down, paying less was a mark of style in '91


TAKING ITS cues from TV and the movies as well as the economy fashion in '91 was so similar to what women and men were wearing in 1990 that it often seemed akin to an instant replay or a sequel starring the same characters.

Short skirts with black hose continued to play a leading role; ditto for big tops or long jackets worn over ubiquitous tights or stirrup pants on figures of all sizes and shapes.

More and more men shed their striped ties in favor of geometrics, florals, artsy and amusing ones. Double-breasted suits gained favor even with some mainstream men, perhaps because regular guys (i.e. sports celebrities) deemed them OK and managed to look comfortable in them.

Even though the word fashion is synonymous with change, it wasn't until late in the year, when designers showed their women's spring collections, that they were emboldened enough to introduce something new long skirts.

However, just as they affected everything from restaurants to airlines, the economy and changing attitudes were the major influences on what people wore and how they looked.

And so it was that the Gap, not a leading designer, became the best friend of the fashion- and budget-minded alike as consumers relished mixing a $10.50 T-shirt with perhaps a $900 Donna Karan, or a Hugo Boss jacket and $48 Banana Republic khaki pants and enjoyed dressing down for quieter lifestyles at home, or in the politically correct great outdoors.

Though knockoffs copies of high-priced designer fashions at a fraction of the originals' prices are common in the rag trade, the clothing industry gave birth to new kinds of clones in '91.

Designers copied themselves, as secondary lines proliferated. Following the lead of Donna Karan and the success of her lower-priced DKNY clothes and accessories, other designers also opened more attractively-priced collections. Among them were Emanuel (Ungaro), A Line (Anne Klein) and Company (Ellen Tracy). Joseph Abboud (JA II), Andrew Fezza and Jhane Barnes are among menswear designers who have introduced additional lines.

At the upper levels, the most popular (and copied) designer labels continued to be Armani and Chanel. And, whether they knew it or not, millions of women were wearing a Chanel-inspired look every time they put on a jacket over tights, a style first introduced in the Chanel collection designed by Karl Lagerfeld in 1989.

A passel of Europeans celebrated special anniversaries as designers: Hubert de Givenchy, 40 years; Ungaro, 25; and Valentino, 30. Among the increasingly influential nouveau kids on the block in Europe was the Milanese team, Dolce & Gabbana, particularly popular with their lingerie looks, a seemingly improbable (yet continuing) trend that has women wearing clothes that look just like underwear for work and play.

In New York, a relative youngster, just-turned-30 Isaac Mizrahi, was named 1991 Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and Todd Oldham was voted the year's "exciting new fashion talent."

The HIV virus, which hit the sports community late this year with a gasp heard round the world, continued to take its toll in the fashion industry with the death of a Perry Ellis designer, Roger Forsythe, who'll be honored posthumously by the Council of Fashion Designers as this year's top menswear designer.

What did the design world come up with that actually sold in '91?

Most notably, women bought selectively, a piece here, an item there fewer head-to-toe status outfits. They purchased still more jackets (including Harley-Davidson and pseudo-motorcycle types).

Some women liked short pleated skirts and while some did go for plaid, touted as the numero uno trend for fall, few women actually turned into tartans. Padded push-up bras, a la the '50s, became hot items, and some Baby Boomer-aged women even discovered girdles.

More guys had their ears pierced (both of them); others felt adventuresome enough to buy suits with a European/American flavor or a softer, unconstructed look rather than a conservative George Bush special.

Everybody bought baseball caps and T-shirts, but the color black was the major common denominator. Women wholeheartedly opted for ebony anything (with accents of red), especially for clubs and parties, while men liked casual black.

Manufacturers, stores and retailers discovered videos, using them to sell makeup, clothes and perfume. Hartmarx stores sent out 150,000 video/catalogs to help their choicest customers do their Christmas shopping. Ads raised eyebrows (Benetton's newborn with the umbilical cord still attached; Calvin Klein's jeans and perfume so, what else is new?) and raised TV's decibels, too ("Egoiste! Egoiste! Egoiste!!!").

As for what's ahead in 1992? Perhaps Mirabella magazine has a premonition of things to come: January's cover shows actress Rachel Ward simply wrapped in a sheet.

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